A statue in front of the Duval County Public Schools headquarters. | Claire Heddles, Jacksonville TodayA statue in front of the Duval County Public Schools headquarters. | Claire Heddles, Jacksonville Today

Public gets a chance to review proposed Duval textbooks

Published on January 9, 2024 at 4:56 pm

Duval County is one step closer to introducing new social studies textbooks for the first time since 2013.

The School Board decided Monday to buy books for its social studies and science curriculum. In a 6-0 vote — board member April Carney was not in attendance — the board decided to spend up to $13 million over the next five years.

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School district parents and Duval County residents have until Feb. 7 to file objections to the selected textbooks.

Physical copies of the adopted books are available at the district’s headquarters.

A digital copy of the suggested social studies textbooks is available on the Academic Services section of the Duval County Public Schools website. Digital copies of the suggested science textbooks are available there as well.

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Parents of current students and Duval County residents are the only groups that may complete a petition to object. Those must be completed in writing to Lisa Rivera-Scallan, supervisor of instructional materials, within 30 days of Monday’s board meeting.

Chief Academic Officer Paula Renfroe told the board the district waited for the Florida Department of Education to fully develop social studies standards before the district implemented them ahead of the 2023-24 academic year.

In addition to being aligned to state standards, the district says it sought textbooks that had interactive digital versions and included content that represented the diversity of Jacksonville in order for students to see themselves.

“Especially in social studies and science, we know that technology changes history, courses of history change and we really need to be responsive,” Renfroe said. “By moving to a digital textbook in our secondary schools — in grades six through 12 — whenever there is an update made to the curriculum, we get the update right away instead of a hard copy textbook (that may) be behind.”

During Monday’s meeting, Rebecca Nathanson, chapter president of Moms for Liberty Duval County — a conservative group focused on parental rights — expressed an interest in her organization reviewing the books.  

Dr. Jennifer Cowart, a leader with Public School Defenders, a progressive organization that touts educators and parents among its members, said her group also would like to review the textbooks in order to better understand the differences in the science textbooks.

“I know there were many opportunities that were made available to the public to try to be on these committees,” Cowart said. “Unfortunately, the timing of such (it) looks like were not convenient with those committees and the times they were offered. So, if there is going to be an opportunity to review those texts, it would be much appreciated.”

Nathanson complained there is a downside to digital textbooks.

“It might behoove the district to somehow be alerted to these changes so the public knows either what they are taking out of the books, or what they are adding to the books, that were not in them when you approved them,” Nathanson told the board.

Nathanson and Cowart were among more than 50 people who spoke during Monday’s public comment period

Most of the speakers focused on the books that students should have access to in school libraries, not the effect of textbooks that will help inform how local students learn about social studies and science over the next half decade.

For more than a year, the public comment portion of Duval County School Board meetings has been a verbal volleying ground about who has the power to decide the voices, books, texts, history and curriculum that local students can and should access.

Renfroe said nearly four dozen people, a group that included parents, teachers, coaches and other members of the community, participated in the textbook adoption review committees.

“I think it’s very important for whatever reason — we don’t think it’s very likely — the state says we are not going to approve (a book) for whatever reason, we could go with Option 2,” Renfroe said. “That gives us the opportunity to No. 1, prepare for the upcoming year. We have not purchased curriculum studies in social studies since 2013 and for science since 2016. … We really wanted to make sure we did a thorough job.”


author image Reporter Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at will@jaxtoday.org.
author image Reporter Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at will@jaxtoday.org.

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